Sep 20, 2013; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Royals players Eric Hosmer (35) and Mike Moustakas (8) celebrate after beating the Texas Rangers 2-1 at Kauffman Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

Why the Royals Will Win the American League Central

Feb 25, 2014; Surprise, AZ, USA; Kansas City Royals starting pitcher James Shields (33) throws during a workout at Surprise Stadium practice area Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Every year, since 1985, we have waited for the Royals to return to the postseason. While the memory of their last playoff appearance, and Bret Saberhagen getting mobbed on the mound, are treasured amongst those of us that got to see it, there is an entire generation of fans that have not gotten to see playoff baseball in Kansas City during their lifetimes. Even though we could always plug in the VCR and replay those videotapes, it just is not the same for those that could not experience it in their lifetimes. Those memories are not their own.

Aside from the tease of 2003, the Royals have not been close to returning to the playoffs. Even last year, when they posted their best record since 1989, the Royals essentially eliminated themselves by going 8-20 in May. They fought hard and made it close in the end, but they were unable to dig out of that hole. Yet, perhaps more than any other season, the 2014 feels as though it may be the Royals year.

Yes, there are questions about the Royals starting rotation. We all know that Ervin Santana is likely not walking into the clubhouse in Surprise, unless he signs with the Rangers. However, the offense, with a legitimate leadoff hitter in Norichika Aoki and the developing Eric Hosmer and Salvador Perez, should be much improved. Aoki and Omar Infante are defensive upgrades over their predecessors. In fact, the Royals could end up having a Gold Glove caliber player at virtually every position on the diamond most nights, after having six players nominated last year. In fact, the Royals appear to be at approximately the same point, if not better, than they were at last year. A minimum of between 85 to 87 wins should be expected in 2014.

In fact, 87 or so wins may be enough for the playoffs. While the Twins have improved, they are still not yet serious contenders at this point. The White Sox appear to be committed to a complete rebuild, and could find themselves vying for the top pick in the 2015 draft.

Once again, the Royals competition for the American League Central crown will be consist of the Tigers and the Indians. Cleveland lost key pieces of their bullpen in Joe Smith and Chris Perez. Their two free agent signings for their major league roster, John Axford and David Murphy, are not the type of players that are likely to separate the Indians from the rest of the Central. In fact, Cleveland was actually considered to be a bit lucky last year, having finished five games better than expected based on underlying statistics and the runs they should have scored.

Detroit, meanwhile, traded away the very underrated Doug Fister and the corpulent Prince Fielder, weakening their team. There are now questions as to who will not only protect Miguel Cabrera in the lineup, but who will man third base. Fister was an excellent third starter, and was a big part of why the Tigers starting rotation was one of the best in baseball last year. However, there are even questions there. Can Anibal Sanchez and Max Scherzer perform at the same level as they did in 2013?

With both the Tigers and the Indians likely to fall back, and the expectation that the Royals will remain at roughly the same level as they were at last year, it may be that the Royals find themselves once again in a close race for the playoffs. This time, with the experience of a playoff chase behind them, the Royals may come out on top.

There is nothing quite like the memories that are made during the playoffs. With the Tigers and Indians seemingly primed to fall back to the rest of the pack, this could be the year for a generation of Royals fans to make their own.

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  • Joel Wagler

    Spoken from the heart…wishful thinking, but I like it!

    • Dave Hill

      A Dave can hope!

  • Tyler_KC_Fan

    It may be wishful thinking but it makes sense!

    The Twins didn’t do anything big with their line-up to improve it and though they went out and signed, what feels like, almost ever FA pitcher on the market, I don’t think they will be a serious contender. The White Sox didn’t do much of anything this offseason. Detroit replaces Fielders bat with Kinsler which, in my opinion, is a huge downgrade. Not to mention they are going to put a new guy on 3B that doesn’t seem to have a lot of power either. Then Cleveland didn’t do much of anything big either this year. I honestly feel like this could be the Royals year!

    Bringing in Infante, Aoki, Valencia and Vargas are improvements not matter how you slice it, and with the thought of having Duffy and Ventura in the rotation by the end of the year is exciting! With how scrappy this team was last year and only losing 2 key players from that team is huge. We are scrappy and hungry for the playoffs. I firmly believe we could beat any team in our division and win the division! (But…this is all wishful thinking, but wishing for something to happen that I have personally never seen before couldn’t hurt!)

  • Dave Lowe

    I believe the Chicago White Sox will be much better than expected. Why?

    Adam Eaton batting leadoff
    Avisail Garcia batting second
    Jose Abreu in the middle of the order

    Their pitching should be pretty solid with Chris Sale, a genuine #1 ace, leading the staff.

    • moretrouble

      I agree, Dave. They will be the most improved team in the division and likely to draw wins away from everyone. With Minnesota’s improved rotation, the bottom of the division got a whole lot better.

    • Dave Hill

      I love Sale, and I think that Abreu will be pretty good, but I think the White Sox are a year or two away. They are trying to rebuild, and that’s going to take time.

  • moretrouble

    Cleveland ended last year with a fabulous ten game winning streak that made them seem a stronger club than they actually are. You’re right, Dave — their pitching losses will likely hurt that club over there. They’ve got a good offensive club, a lot of nice youngsters on the bump and one of the best catchers in the business. I don’t see them winning the division, but they’re a little like the Royals, waiting around for pitchers to develop.

    It’s hard to know if — or how — the new manager will affect the Tigers. I think they’ve got problems trying to go younger. The young 3B man is untested, so is Smyly in the rotation and although I like their SS, he doesn’t have quite the bat they had there before. Victor Martinez had a bad season last year, Kinsler can’t possibly match Fielder’s power numbers — and I can’t believe they allowed Fister to leave. It’s not altogether clear that Scherzer and Sanchez will perform as well as last year. Further, I think Detroit’s catchers are a weak link on the club.

    But, KC must do something it’s never done before — actually win something. This is where Yost becomes important. He can’t throw away those early season games this year. Every game must be managed like September because a young club like that must play with confidence. And, it’s not KC’s stars who will win it — they’ll play well — it’s the rest of the club. If those guys play well, KC has a great shot. I’m not sure they can go very far in the playoffs, but they certainly can get there.


    While the Indians may regress to some degree, NO compelling argument was put forth here that the Tigers will regress and losing Fielder is a plus in my eyes, not a negative since fat guys have careers that are essentially a lit time bomb and he will turn 30 during the season’s first month. His best is behind him, statistically.

    The Tigers arguably have 6 players on their roster (historically) that are better than ANY Royals player as well. And, this is a team with a ton of pennant chase and post season experience. And, those 6 players include what are arguably currently the best pitcher and player in the game today (let that argument commence!).

    The Royals, on the other hand, managed to win only 86 games, despite a pitching staff that was 4th best (ERA) in team history (throwing out strike seasons) and was the 2nd best in team history in terms of runs allowed (again, throwing out strike seasons). And, they did this with the 5th worst offense in franchise history in terms of total runs scored (throwing out strike seasons, again). And, had almost zero power and still don’t.

    The probability that the pitching staff duplicates last year’s performance is infinitesimally small and until the players that make up the bulk of what is going to be the Royals offense actually prove they can produce runs (they have not–ever) they are an unknown quantity to say the least and are hardly worth counting your chickens on.

    Couple that with these problems. Namely, in no particular order, Mike Moustakas, Alcides Escobar, no more Ervin Santana, Ned Yost, and Dayton Moore. While I am wishful, I have little reason for real optimism.

    Unless somebody not currently being counted on breaks out in a big way, I don’t see this team being much different from last season and they might even be a little worse. 81-81 sounds about right to me. The Royals don’t have the look of a playoff team to me at all. I had Royals season tickets from ’76 through ’81, inclusive, and this team has none of the vibe, for lack of a better way to put it, that those teams had.

    The notion that the Tigers, barring injury, are an 87 win team is nutty to me.

    Until the Royals actually DO something of note, they sure as hell aren’t getting my benefit of the doubt. Until then, the glass is half empty and not half full in my book.